Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Tale of the Master and of His Belovèd: Beethoven & the Immortal Belovèd (Part 2)

This is an excerpt from my recently completed novel, The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben and is a continuation of the account by Dr. Reiner Knussbaum concerning the relationship between his friend Ludwig van Beethoven and the mysterious woman known to history (at least, music history) as The Immortal Belovèd. I remind you that this is purely fiction.

You can read the first half of Knussbaum's Tale here. It concluded with Beethoven meeting a young music teacher in Vienna named Simon Sechter.

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Sechter was a young man of 26 who had studied with Koželuch (though the Master did not hold that against him) whom Beethoven, now considerably changed, had liked instantly despite his being so academic. Greatly honored by the request made of him, Sechter would take over the "administration" of what Beethoven now called "our Project." Sechter would look after the banking, keep the books and administer the fees to be paid to my uncle, Tobias Pflegermann, for the "maintenance" of the woman known as "Rosa Kohl" at his inn. It was my great responsibility as "Resident Hermes" (now, alas, no longer skinny) to carry correspondence between Sechter and the Master as well as any such correspondence directly between the Master and the Belovèd. Sechter and I jokingly called ourselves the "Unsterblichesverein" [the "Immortal Society" – translator's note] and such, I admit, was its unlikely beginnings.

My uncle, of course, had no idea regarding the source of this income, knowing only of the agent he corresponded with, Baron Ludwig von Zwischenstein-und-Schwerplatz, a fellow who acted for an unnamed Viennese aristocrat. Fortunately, it gave them the impression "Rosa" was to have married a nobleman, an assumption that didn't hurt our project's cause. It might ultimately explain why she found kitchen-work beneath her, whatever the cause, even if at times she put on airs. I told them reminding her of her loss would only sadden her more.

It was during the springtime of the following year – this was now 1814 – after "Wellington's Victory" had become a great success, much to the Master's constant bafflement and delight, despite some critic's occasional complaints (as Beethoven scoffed to me over lunch once, after reading one such review, "I shit better than what this moron composes!"). Not only did it bring him some much needed income, it brought with it a renewed popularity, even more than before, but more importantly, for his own benefit, a renewed sense of his self-esteem.

Fidelio was revived and was finally a success, the Viennese seeing it as a triumph over the inevitable fall of Napoleon (originally premiered during the French Occupation of 1805, it had been a disaster). And when, with Waterloo, Napoleon's collapse became reality, Vienna danced as Europe converged, redrawing the map after twenty years of war.

These were heady times for a boy in his mid-teens as much as they were for a genius in his mid-forties. Beethoven had many works inspired by current events that were being euphorically received. Sechter had taken me on as a student both in organ and theory, the better to explain my frequent appearances there. Though by now Beethoven had gone from having been forgotten to being acclaimed, he'd also gone from hard-of-hearing to totally deaf. He could scoff at what he was composing: he didn't mind the acclaim.

My uncle was amazed to discover I was becoming a frequently employed musician (no doubt through good connections with Baron Zwischenstein-und-Schwerplatz). He and my aunt (if not “Rosa” herself) were gratified I'd outgrown kitchen-work. But “Rosa” warned me in her half-serious way, that if nothing else materialized, one could always find work in a kitchen.

The strain of these years and her prolonged absence from the Master's side had no doubt been weighing heavily upon “Rosa,” and at times I could tell she missed the excitement of city life. Alone with Amalie (and how quickly she grew), life must still be dull living at a country inn far from Vienna.

Once, I suggested to the Master that I bring “Rosa” and the child in to Vienna for one of his concerts. He declared it would be more than he – or possibly she – could bear.

Wellington's Victory had struck a chord with people who never went into a theater to hear one of the Master's symphonies. Patriotic fervor rode high among the light-hearted Viennese and Beethoven mined it easily. Fame it may have been, but it didn't last long, a glorious moment like a flame extinguished by a fickle wind. As life after years of constant warfare gradually settled into a new normalcy, people wanted to feel comfortable, to be entertained. They didn't want to grapple with those intellectual issues fueling his earlier works.

With the responsibility of the Belovèd's finances given to the efficient Dr. Sechter, and relying less on me for any communications, it seemed the Master forgot about her and his daughter living far away. If everyone chose to ignore their own circumstances, was Beethoven doing the same and hiding one of his life's greatest frustrations?

So it was to my considerable amazement when – this would be late-winter, 1815 – the Master requested I visit him some evening. I don't recall having seen him once all season, busy with my studies. And when I arrived well after dinner, making sure not to disturb him, I found him neatly dressed and smiling broadly.

"Come, come," he said like an eager father, brandishing a sheaf of papers. "Look, look," and dropped it on his desk. He pulled out a chair and set me down in it. "There – see?"

The Master pointed impatiently at the top page which was only barely legible. "I finished it this morning – it took months!" His excitement continued as I paged through it, trying to read it (unsuccessfully). "You will need to copy it, with parts, then show it to Sechter, and find some friends to play through it."

I asked why he hadn't contacted Schuppanzigh who usually played his new quartets, but he only laughed, pushing his chair back.

"No, no, Falstaff" (so-called because of his girth) "will want to perform it."

That seemed a logical assumption, I told him, but the Master was adamant even though I couldn't possibly do it justice, looking at the second violin part which was far beyond my meager talents.

"Well, Hermes, then you will have to copy it and learn it quickly, for you must play it for Amalie's birthday."

The quartet, Beethoven stressed again and again, had to be kept a secret, intended only for the ears of his family which, likewise, had to be kept a secret, away from Vienna's prying eyes. This music had grown from his innermost feelings – whether the heart's or mind's – and became the most personal of utterances imaginable. It was the opposite of everything else he'd been composing during this time, all of it otherwise for the public moment. In this piece, there was nothing public there, only his most private thoughts.

"The world beyond these walls would not be ready for such 'interior' music, a world interested only in show and cajolery," he argued as I carefully deciphered his scrawl into something mortals could read. "I do it to protect myself from maladroits who could never understand it, but I do it also to protect them."

As I would begin copying a new section, he would carefully point out what this phrase or that unexpected modulation meant, thoughts behind his musical thinking, not mere story-telling but more than purely academic. It wasn't telling the story of some people as if on a stage, but described those responses he felt about them.

This motive, he'd say, was inspired by a glance from the Belovèd herself and how this new idea came from it – "there," his finger stabbed at the manuscript, "see?" – which became the child's theme.

It was music unlike any I'd heard before and rarely equaled since then – though I heard it only inside my head – both lyrical and dramatic, beautiful yet intricately complex – and long, much more expansive. There were passages he would blush over when I asked him about them: "those, I'm afraid, are too far beyond words."

It struck me far more serious than his last quartet, the F Minor (finished four years earlier, and still held back) yet he considered it overall a joyous work, much like his Seventh Symphony.

In the last movement, he pointed out how it became a dance-like fugue with a subject based on the Belovèd's motive; how the counter-subject expanded the Child's motive – turning eventually into a double fugue. Sechter, the master of counterpoint, had bragged of writing a fugue a day: how would he react to seeing this fugue?

By the time I had finished copying it and my colleagues and I had learned it (an arduous task in itself), we were two months late for Amalie's birthday – doubtful the child would notice. Only Sechter and myself knew the author's identity ("Rosa," of course, could guess) but there was no problem keeping it secret.

We had difficulties enough playing it but the others had more in listening, Amalie not the only one who fell asleep. Even Sechter, there as my teacher not as Beethoven's agent, found it indecipherable.

Gradually, my aunt, uncle and what few other guests all left the room to partake of beer in the outer parlor. Only afterward did an old gypsy woman staying nearby appear in the doorway.

She began reading everyone's palms, telling their fortunes. Rosa's palm proved a mystery: "such a long life-line – you must be immortal!"

When she got to the child, Amalie's hand created in her an immediate energy, causing her at first to drop it.

"There will be twins – and from their union..."

"Horrible – that's incestuous!" someone muttered.

"No, generations will pass, but when they join – and I see great peril – greatness equal to this child's father will result."

After everyone else had left, Herr Sechter and I remained by the fire, pondering this over another pleasant glass of wine.

"Where did that come from," shaking his head. "Plus, didn't she mention 'peril'?"

(after several events in the novel's course intervene, Knussbaum's narrative is then renewed.)

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Being the conclusion of Knussbaum's "Tale of the Master and of his Belovèd"

There is little to add at this point beyond recounting the excruciating details of those well-known events of the Master's life, or, for that matter, those of the woman whom Beethoven called his "Angel" or the child he knew was his daughter. There was never any indication he ever said anything about them again except on rare occasions when he would ask me how the project's fund was holding out, whether the finances remained suitable enough. The quartet ended with a rising motive and three startling modulations before the final cadence which the Master told me represented "Eternally yours," "Eternally mine," and the final resolution to E-flat Major, "Eternally we." But yet, this motive, he said, became transformed into something for almost every piece he wrote from the Missa Solemnis forward.

For in reality, he said, thoughts of her and their child inspired not only the mass through which he sought forgiveness, but the last piano sonatas, the great Choral symphony (not just the finale), and especially the series of quartets he was embarking upon at the time, a motive so transformable as to be unrecognizable. When he showed me the manuscripts, I said I could not see what he was referring to, and he laughed aloud. "That, my rotund Hermes, is exactly the point! Only I know it's there!"

There is little to say about "Rosa Kohl" (it was how she was known to my aunt and uncle, after all) except that she continued to live the quiet life of a country widow, raising her child who enjoyed growing up with other children living nearby in the quaint if somewhat limited village of Oberunterdurchenwald. She never once went into Vienna because Herr Sechter had told her he would cut off her support if she did and she found village life for herself quite boring enough without being poor.

Every year around Amalie's birthday, I would bring three colleagues out along with Sechter to play for her her father's quartet though she found the music boring and her mother thought it was insufferable. And every year we would travel back to Vienna and tell the Master how much they both had enjoyed the music.

We both knew the Master would never release the quartet for publication without having to admit to whom it was dedicated and that the primary reason for their secret existence became the quartet's, also. After one such birthday, Beethoven made us once again swear to maintain the secret and continue the project past his death. He now wanted us to wait until after Rosa's death to publish it – even he had started to call her that – but to make no reference to her identity or to their daughter's existence.

Once, the Master belittled Sechter's habit of writing such academic, indeed awful fugues. Embarking on a series of new string quartets, Beethoven bragged he would show him how to write a really great fugue. (Whenever Sechter or I visited, we would keep our own separate "conversation books" to ensure nobody could read what we'd said.)

Another time, not long before his nephew – poor deluded boy – tried committing suicide, I again argued to release the Giocoso Quartet. When he said he would not, I shook my head: "Must it be?"

Slapping his palm on the table, he laughed, "It must be!" then paused and said, "wait, I must write that down..."

The Master's health was rarely good but there were times when it improved and it seemed he had many years left. Yet “Rosa” imagined he would die in the springtime during a fierce thunderstorm.

That December, after Beethoven returned from his brother's house in Gneixendorf, his nephew beginning his new life in a military regiment, the Master was seriously ill, so ill doctors thought he might die soon. I went to see him and again he pressed me about "our Project," hiding from Amalie what he called his "shame." He gave me several boxes filled with letters – those I'd carried back and forth between them over these past many years – of which he now said, "Hermes must give these over to Vulcan's fire."

He urged me to destroy our conversation books and to secure any letters from him which “Rosa” herself might have kept, consigning those to flames through which his sin could still not be cleansed. The next day, after a terrible storm, Sechter and I went to see the Master only to find him already dead.

We could not assist in the funeral arrangements because most of those close to him then knew nothing of our association. Instead, we walked amongst the throngs of mourners and grieved for our loss. Trudging along behind the coffin, someone asked me how I knew the Master. "Certainly as anyone who loved music knew him."

As we returned from the cemetery, deep in thought and lost in sadness, Sechter and I talked long into the night and wondered what need there was to continue hiding “Rosa” and Amalie's identities.

But soon we heard Schindler found among the Master's papers in his desk, a six-page letter written to an unnamed woman, someone called, among other things, the "Immortal Belovèd," a sad thing to read. Immediately, Vienna was abuzz with wonder that such a thing had gone undetected, that even his closest friends had suspected nothing.

What other things he may have forgotten to give me before he died, Sechter and I continued to worry anxiously about. Would there be more recent letters that implicated our roles in this deception?

Schindler had his theories and others made their own suggestions, to no avail: no matter who one guessed, it remained unprovable. And yet nobody was anywhere near the mark – they didn't know "Rosa" existed.

After hurrying off to Shady Pines, I was met by a stoic “Rosa” who told me bluntly that Beethoven had died.

Two unrelated things happened a few years not long after the Master died: my uncle Tobias died quietly in his sleep and Herr Sechter was offered a job teaching in Bavaria, someplace called Schweinwald(*1). Since Aunt Sophia said she could no longer maintain the inn by herself, she announced she was prepared to sell it. This meant we needed to find a place for “Rosa” and her daughter in order to remain true to the Master. Then Sechter announced he'd take them to Schweinwald as part of his household.

Fortunately, he also needed an assistant and someone who could teach organ, so he found a place for me, as well. There, together, we were able to maintain the secret indefinitely, far from Vienna. We had no idea how old “Rosa” may have been, by this time, but Amalie, now seventeen, made the trip easily.

The deception succeeded satisfactorily though not without curiosity, especially after Sechter resigned and returned to Vienna, having left Frau Kohl behind. By this time, "Rosa" was even less herself, if she ever had been. But it made others, asking me directly, wonder who she was to Sechter if he would not take her with him.

"She has become too ill to travel and being so well situated here, she would not do as well in Vienna. Therefore," I explained, "I had agreed to continue looking after both of them."

If I have time (which I fear I do not), I will return to write more about the Belovèd's life, here, and about Amalie and how she grew up practically as my foster daughter, instead, focusing here on what concerns the Master who loved Amalie greatly, her father except in being there to raise her.

Suffice it to say, she fell for the charms of student Everett Gutknaben and unbeknownst to him bore him a daughter to whom, for some unimaginable reason, she had given the name Claudia Ludwiga.

Barely two years later, young Amalie succumbed to an illness discovered too late, and then, on an otherwise felicitous summer afternoon, we laid her poor body to rest in the graveyard beyond the castle.

And so the years moved on, more quickly now than in the past, all without any further performances of Beethoven's quartet.

In the last decade of her life, our "Rosa" descended clearly into madness, brightened only by the presence of her granddaughter, and forcing me to swear, again, I would never reveal her family's secret. It was good that Beethoven should never have seen what their misalliance had led her to: he'd become even more despondent.

According to the Master's wishes that final day, after she was buried somewhere remote and safe, we should erect a monument, some likeness of him where he could gaze upon his "Fountain of Inspiration."

So this we did, Sechter returning for the funeral and for the quiet installation of Beethoven's statue on the castle's courtyard. But he returned to Schweinwald having discovered some disturbing news in the capital.

"There is clearly some peril," he reminded me, "attached to the revelation of the Master's secret, for we must proceed cautiously."

He explained Schindler unwittingly gave rise to rumours that this Immortal Belovèd may possibly have born a child to the Master, and some, incensed this besmirched his reputation, were out to destroy any proof.

According to some little list, apparently they suspected Schubert might know the truth: his death so soon afterwards now seemed suspicious.

"So it becomes clear, don't you see," my old professor explained to me, "we must continue to guard the Master's secret."

"And how do you propose we do this," I asked. "For all eternity?"

More years passed by in which I implemented Herr Sechter's improbably detailed plan to protect the descendents of the Master's legacy from the nefarious members of a secret society calling itself the 'Guidonian Hand.' We set up the Watchers – "Rosa" unendingly complained how we continually 'watched' her – responsible for keeping track of the future generations. These were people separate from the family line who were to act independently and, he specified, unbeknownst to the heirs themselves. No one who was descended from Amalie must know who her father was.

Of equal importance was that no one should know the true identity of her mother, he continued, not even the Watchers, thereby protecting them from this one crucial aspect of the Guidonian Hand's search. For the Hand's goal was two-fold: to destroy all evidence of those descendents and obliterate all knowledge of the Belovèd's identity.

Given the need for continued secrecy but also given the need for additional Watchers, at least those going into the future, we decided to induct Sechter's successor, Professor Dudley Böhm, into our "Immortal Club," a name we originally coined half in jest but which seemed, now, the Belovèd aside, a society for the "immediate eternity."

We had to make sure somewhere, somehow, someone would someday be able to discover the Truth and the secret be revealed. To that end we must hide the Belovèd's Will and the quartet's manuscript.

Alas, showing it to Sechter, I did not think this was what we wanted the future to know about their relationship, clearly having been the product of a diseased mind, as he put it. Who better than me to record the Master's side of these distant events? But not that just anyone could read it.

And so we devised a code that should not attract attention to itself but challenging enough not to be broken easily. (I need not explain what it is as you've already figured it out.)

So I will reluctantly hide with it the original manuscript and my copy of Beethoven's quartet which he called the Giocoso and which for obvious reasons Sechter and I always called The Belovèd Quartet.

Then, on a chilly April evening for what would have been Amalie's 35th birthday, we played the quartet one last time.

It was the first time in thirteen years anyone had heard the work which had by now grown on us considerably and Sechter and I wept for knowing we would never hear it again. My three colleagues who played it this time, never having heard it before, thought it a marvelous work worthy of publication.

It was the height of hubris to claim the work as my own so I said a friend had written it and she did not ever want it to see the light of day.

I have no idea whatever possessed me to say it had been written by a woman (rather than inspired by one) but that at least would explain the reason it could not be published.

Joking perhaps a rumour would begin it was written by the Belovèd herself, we then quietly burned the set of parts.

Now I am old and frail myself – my time is close at hand and I must finally put aside immortal longings and thank God (and the Master) for giving me such a long life.

It is a sad time, too, for Count von Falkenstein has died and with it any interest in maintaining the Academy.

Claudia Ludwiga has done well on her own, Count Albrecht Johann's second wife, giving birth to a daughter and twin sons.

Alas, one son died young without producing any offspring for any future union.

Count Albrecht's son, Ludwig, by his first wife, has closed the Academy and with it, quite frankly, my reason for living. He decided to sell much of the library, including our considerable Beethoven collection. Fortunately the library has been purchased by a music-loving English aristocrat whom I have met and chatted with at great length.

His name is Sir Sidney Leighton, the 9th Marquess of Quackerville, I believe, and apparently quite a "fan" of Beethoven's music. He had been traveling to Vienna when he heard about Count Leopold's collection.

We talked for hours about my having actually been in the Master's presence – he could listen for days to these anecdotes – though I was careful not to mention my most enduring connection to him.

It was then I decided this could be the Immortal Club's ideal solution: hiding the Belovèd in a distant English castle!

When I asked him if his castle's library had a musically knowledgeable librarian, Sir Sidney confessed there wasn't even a librarian, so I then took the opportunity of suggesting a former student of mine.

"He's English, a brilliant lad, and had been here a couple summers ago, having proved quite a promising composer and scholar.

"I think you would find, despite his youth and inexperience, a good selection and already acquainted with much of the material."

When he agreed, I told him the young man's name was Harrison Harty.

It makes me smile to think how everything has worked out – or I hope it will – keeping true to the Master. I wish Sechter and even old Böhm could be here to see it.

It does not seem possible to me, thinking back to those heady days, how it all began over seventy years ago!

I am giddy with excitement over how Fate has knocked at my door, how incredible it has been, answering that knock.

Young friends, recently entered into the Immortal Club, I leave you the future!

Now all that is left for me to do is finish this memoir, which I will instead leave here at Schweinwald.

(Yes, it would not do well for everything to be in one location.)

So now 'tis time to hand this to the next generation of Watchers.

(And have done so without revealing her name.)

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(*1) Schweinwald is located in Bavaria and was at the time the estate of a German nobleman, Count von Falkenstein. He had converted the old family castle into a great music school where young composers from across Europe could gather to learn the magic of music and realize their full creativity. In 1880, the Academy is still in full force and a journal kept by one of the students there forms a major part of the previous novel in this series, The Lost Chord. In fact, much of the modern day part of that novel takes place at a music festival being held on the old Falkenstein estate. (Schweinwald is an actual location in southern Bavaria: it means "Hogwood" and seemed a logical choice for such a fine music academy.)

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This is an excerpt from The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben which I just completed earlier this month. The first novel in The Klangfarben Trilogy, another music-appreciation comedy thriller, The Doomsday Symphony, has already been posted on-line. The second novel, The Lost Chord, is now being serialized on the blog. You can also read about the completion of  The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben, here.

- Dick Strawser

© 2014 by the author, Richard Alan Strawser


  1. Really like this- where's the full novel?

  2. Anonymous9:57 PM

    Good work! Where's the full novel?

  3. Thanks - I just finished the main part of the novel (which is the third part of a trilogy) and I'm working on an "Intermezzo" ('The House of dePaula Escher') which is its prelude; but I'm going to start posting the 2nd novel, "The Lost Chord" starting next month some time.

    1. Please see the revised final paragraph of the above post. Thanks.